THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: SEPTEMBER 2, 1973

Tolkien Departs Middle Earth

j-r-tolkienJ.R.R. Tolkien, Oxford scholar of medieval English, died today aged 81. He will be remembered for the story he wrote for his children about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a furry-footed hobbit who lived in a burrow in the Shire, a bucolic idyll of Anglo-Saxon Britain. The tale grew into a saga of warriors and wizards, elves, demons, trolls, and goblins locked in an awesome struggle of good and evil, with the fate of Middle Earth hanging on a lost ring—the ring of the chillingly evil dark lord Sauron.

The passion of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s literary life was to make his “fairy-stories” so complete in description and detail, so varied in character and action, so expansive in philosophy and religion, as to be “real.” He was in every way the perfectionist in matters of verisimilitude–revising, correcting, and amending his tales over a period of years and decades so that they would always be referentially consistent. His life’s work, the creation of Middle Earth, encompasses a reality that rivals Western man’s own attempt at recording the composite, knowable history of his species. Not since Milton has any Englishman worked so successfully at creating a secondary world, derived from our own, yet complete in its own terms with encyclopedic mythology; an imagined world that includes a vast gallery of strange beings: hobbits, elves, dwarfs, orcs, and, finally, the men of Westernesse. The personalities and languages of these beings provide Tolkien with the rich, raw material for transforming parts of 10,000 years of Middle Earth history into elegant fairy-stories: The Hobbit and the trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 15: British Novelists, 1930-1959. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Bernard Oldsey, West Chester University of Pennsylvania. The Gale Group, 1983. pp. 520-530.


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